Another day, another headline as Kernow LMC warns that Cornwall’s GP surgeries are on the brink of crisis as they continue to deal with an unmanageable workload. A GP Online article revealed the LMC feared they would not have the resources or resilience to handle any additional pressure in the coming months.
COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccines are an additional pressure, along with the rise in seasonal illnesses that accompany this time of year. A shortage of GPs and practice nurses has compounded the issue. While patients may have sympathy with the plight of general practice, they soon become unhappy if they are in pain or are worried about their health and cannot make an appointment.
Kernow LMC has asked patients to help by only making an appointment if their health concern cannot be managed at home or by using their local pharmacy services. They have also called on patients to respect frontline practice staff and receptionists if they are finding it difficult to get through to their surgery on the phone.
This is where we can help. Reports of engaged tones or surgery phones just ringing out have appeared in angry posts on social media and in the news but this situation can be avoided by using the right technology.
When a patient is met by the engaged tone, call capacity is usually the issue, especially in the morning when patients call in to try to book an appointment. The number of concurrent calls that a phone system can handle is not infinite. To illustrate, if you have one telephone line or channel, you can only take or make one call at a time. While most surgeries have multiple lines, many have not had enough to cope with a pandemic.
Increase call capacity
While most lines were used for incoming calls pre-COVID 19, the rise of telephone appointments means that lines are being used for outgoing calls too. If a doctor is making an outgoing call to a patient, there is one less line that can be used for incoming calls. If too many lines are being used for incoming calls, practice staff may not be able to call out.
Greet every call with an automated attendant
Increasing call capacity is a good start to driving down complaints from patients who cannot get though. An automated attendant is the next step where every call is answered with a welcome message before offering the patient a list of options. The message may encourage them to call back at a less busy time of day if they are checking for test results or ordering a repeat prescription, or even to not book an appointment at all. During the height of the pandemic, patients with COVID-19 were asked to not book an appointment to avoid spreading the virus.
Add call queuing
If patients want to book an appointment, call queuing should be used until a receptionist is available. While they may need to wait, at least the patient knows their call will be dealt with. Call queuing solutions can let the patients know where they are in the queue or can broadcast helpful information that they may have been calling up about in the first place.
Patient management system integration
Once a call is answered, receptionists need to have the tools at their fingertips to deal with patient enquiries as quickly as possible. Phone system integration with patient management systems see patient details pop up as the call is answered to help receptionists promptly verify and update identity details to save precious seconds on each call. Quicker calls mean shorter queues, less calls remaining unanswered, and a reduction in complaints.
These are just some of the ways modern phone systems can support GP surgeries. They do not magic up extra staff or a reduction in seasonal illnesses but can make at least one area of general practice a little more palatable.
I would urge any practice struggling to manage their calls to get in touch with me to see how modern technology can support the work you are doing this autumn and winter and beyond.